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Letters from Hiroshima: A-bomb survivors write to President Obama, Part 6

Toshiko Tanaka speaks her thoughts about Obama's planned speech in Hiroshima. (Mainichi)

During his visit to Japan for the May 26 and 27 G-7 Summit in the Ise-Shima region of Mie Prefecture, United States President Barack Obama is to become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima. The Mainichi Shimbun's Hiroshima Bureau has asked atomic bombing survivors and other related individuals to write letters to Obama with their thoughts.

    The sixth and final letter in this series is from wall artist Toshiko Tanaka, 77, of Higashi Ward, Hiroshima. Tanaka was 6 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped, and she hopes for Obama to put forth a clear road map to a nuclear weapon-free world. She hopes this because, having spoken in over 10 countries about her experiences as an A-bomb survivor, she feels that there remains a strongly-rooted opinion in the world that dropping the A-bombs was necessary. When she gave her letter to a Mainichi Shimbun reporter, she said, "If President Obama gives a sincere prayer and vows to put an end to nuclear weapons, it will serve as healing for the victims and survivors of the A-bombs. I think that right now we cannot ask for an apology, but it's one step at a time."

    *****

    Dear Mr. President,

    For the first time, a U.S. president who is in office will come to Hiroshima and give a prayer for the peace of the souls of the A-bomb victims, and as one of the survivors, I am moved and made happy by the decision to make this happen.

    In 2009, I was given courage by President Obama's speech in Prague. For six years after that, I was visiting U.S. schools in New York and elsewhere, reciting my story about the A-bomb. During that time there were two or three incidents that made me think you may be exploring the possibility of visiting Hiroshima. However, there was a strong feeling among the U.S. populace that the A-bombs were necessary for ending the war, and I thought that a visit to Hiroshima would probably not be easy to do.

    But on this May 27, the long-held desires of the president and the A-bomb survivors will be realized. Rather than immediately pressing for an apology, what I want is for the president to quietly but strongly, before the monument to the victims, pledge to take effective action to rid the world of nuclear weapons so that there will be no repeat of the mistake again. That will serve as more of a healing to the souls of the victims than anything else, I believe.

    When I was a first-grader in elementary school, I was 2.3 kilometers from the hypocenter of the Hiroshima blast, in an area called Ushita, where I was burned and exposed to radiation. Amidst the destruction, as people wandered and cried out in pain, when the unchanged blue sky showed itself, in my child's mind, for some reason, a hope sprung forth that "there will be a tomorrow." We citizens of Hiroshima recovered and have overcome many challenges since then.

    Unfortunately, since you have become president, I have not felt that the path to a nuclear weapon-free world has come closer. However, I hope that you will show during your Hiroshima visit that the spirit of your Prague speech is still alive. If the Hiroshima speech is a passionate one that steps yet further from the humanitarian point of view, we will again receive a blue sky of hope, and be encouraged.

    Not only the people of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but all the people of Japan are waiting for your words on May 27.

    Yours sincerely,

    Toshiko Tanaka

    *****

    Toshiko Tanaka

    Tanaka was about 2.3 kilometers from the hypocenter of the Hiroshima atomic blast, and suffered burns on her body. All of her friends at her school (present-day Nakajima Elementary School) died, and she was deeply emotionally scarred. When she was young she hardly talked about the bomb, but after riding on the world-traveling Peace Boat, in 2009 she began speaking about her experiences.

    In 2012, Tanaka met with Clifton Truman Daniel, the grandson of former U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who ordered the dropping of the atomic bomb. Tanaka says that Daniel, who was visiting Hiroshima for the first time, told her he wanted to put together the stories of A-bomb survivors into a book.

    "I felt that our desire to get rid of nuclear weapons had gotten through to him," she says.

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